Education | School transport availability
To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which she can address the outstanding issues on school transport, with particular reference to ensuring that children who were previously accommodated can continue to avail of school transport if necessary on a concessionary basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the last school year over 121,400 children, including over 15,500 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €289m in 2021.
The purpose of my Department’s School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.
In July 2022, Government announced funding for the waiving of school transport scheme fees for the 2022/2023 school year as part of a wider package of cost of living measures.
School Transport ticket registration for the 2022/23 school year closed on 29 July by which time almost 130,000 applications/registrations were received for mainstream school transport. This figure includes 44,299 new applications as well as roll-overs from the previous school year.
Already 125,000 tickets for the mainstream scheme alone have been issued to applicants for the for the 2022/2023 school year. At the start of the last school year, there were circa 103,600 children carried on mainstream school transport services so already in the region of 21,400 additional places have been created. There has been an increase in tickets allocated across all counties, including the areas referred to by the Deputies.
Bus Éireann will continue to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as extra buses and drivers are sourced and become available to provide transport for the higher numbers qualifying for the service. However, regrettably the unprecedented numbers of new applications for the upcoming school year, has led to some delays in issuing tickets.
The normal eligibility criteria of the scheme still apply and tickets continue to be allocated in line with this criteria. Pupils at primary level are eligible where they live no less than 3.2 kilometres from and are attending their nearest primary school. At post primary level, students who live no less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest post primary school/education centre are deemed eligible. Any pupils/students who do not meet these criteria are deemed not eligible, or otherwise known as concessionary applicants, and are allocated a ticket based on the availability of a seat when all eligible children have been catered for.
In line with normal practice, all eligible children who completed the application and ticket registration process on time for the 2022/2023 school year will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.
In addition, pending completion of the outcome of the full review of the School Transport Scheme, Temporary Alleviation Measures at post-primary level will be continued for the 2022/2023 school year. Under these measures, transport will provided for post-primary pupils who are eligible for transport to their nearest school and are attending their second nearest school and who applied by the 29th April and registered for a ticket by the 29th July.
I hope that the Deputy will be happy to note that, following discussions with Minister McGrath and officials in DPER as part of the budgetary process, some additional funding has been approved for the scheme which will allow officials in consultation with Bus Éireann to consider and evaluate where temporary additional capacity may be available.
The initial focus will be where families applied on time and who previously held concessionary tickets, to alleviate the impact of the increased demands on the scheme for those families. However, it is important to stress that this is subject to capacity considerations. Constraints in sourcing vehicles and drivers in certain areas of the country may also mean that it may take a number of weeks to explore solutions for additional capacity.
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